Derrick Lewis is one of the few, universally popular figures in mixed martial arts. The veteran UFC heavyweight’s violent fighting style and personable, funny personality have made his fights a must-see for several years.
Well, for everyone except his three children.
You won’t even be at the Toyota Center in Houston on Saturday night when Lewis (25-7) battles UFC 265 in her hometown for the UFC temporary heavyweight title.
“My kids don’t care if I fight,” Lewis said with a grimace. “They don’t care. They do not care. They always say, ‘Who cares?’ Even the neighborhood kids who say, ‘Your father is famous!’ They say, ‘We know. We dont care.’ All she is interested in is playing video games on YouTube and the like. “
His kids may not be in his corner, but Lewis, 36, will have essentially everyone else in the building backing as he tries to peak his career against Frenchman Ciryl Gane (9-0), a Muay Thai Champion who rose to the top of MMA in just three years.
Lewis was in the UFC for seven of his eleven years in the sport but was never a champion. Losing to Daniel Cormier in his only previous title fight three years ago, he ripe with the realization that if the UFC needed a popular name to draw eyeballs, he might have to settle for a well-paying headlining career on the secondary nights of the fight .
The lumbering Lewis has a four-fight winning streak, but he wasn’t on the hunt for that title shot. In fact, he recently had to be reminded that his next fight could end with a strap around his waist.
“I still don’t even think about it,” said Lewis. “My thoughts still aren’t really on the title because I’m still getting paid. I had forgotten everything. “
That’s probably a good thing, because this interim belt has attracted a lot of ridicule in the MMA world.
Oddly enough, the UFC decided to award an interim title just four months after Francis Ngannou captured the real heavyweight belt by beating Stipe Miocic in Las Vegas. The UFC had argued slightly with Ngannou about the timing of his next title shot, but the promotion was clearly keen to promote UFC 265 with some sort of championship designation to the millions of casual fighting fans who don’t understand the hassle of the whole matter.
If he claims the belt, Lewis will be more looking forward to a unifying rematch with Ngannou. Lewis notoriously defeated an incompetent version of Ngannou at UFC 226 in July 2018, only to see Ngannou revive his career with five straight wins and a belt.
Gane is set to fight for a title in his seventh UFC fight, and he’s a little more excited than Lewis. The Frenchman said it was “impossible to say no when the UFC called” despite his wife due to give birth to their second daughter on August 20.
Neither is Gane worried about the likelihood of getting booed for every minute he’s on the arena floor at UFC 265 playing against Houston’s home heroes.
“That’s not a problem for me,” Gane said with a grin. “I am satisfied with the situation. He has his fans. If it were in Paris … well, these fans will make it a little more fun. “
UFC 265 also features former featherweight champion José Aldo in a bantamweight bout against his Brazilian compatriot Pedro Munhoz. Welterweight title contenders Michael Chiesa and Vicente Luque meet earlier on the pay-per-view portion of the show.
Lewis is usually the epitome of a fan-friendly fighter, and he’s only a knockout away from taking the UFC’s career lead during such interruptions. Gane is almost the opposite, with a Muay Thai-influenced style that relies on defense and careful stroke volume – two things that are usually not appreciated by bloodthirsty cageside fans.
Gane feels ready to deal with Lewis after battling large, bulky training partners who have been encouraged to throw massive right hands – Lewis’ specialty, of course.
“Everyone knows they have a bomb in their hands, so we worked on it,” said Gane.
Likewise, the normally pot-bellied Lewis says he did extensive running and cardiovascular training – but not to achieve Gane’s athleticism and endurance.
“It’s not really about doing five rounds of cardio,” said Lewis. “Just be exciting for five rounds because he’s a boring fighter. He likes to sit back and do leg kicks, but I want to have an exciting fight in my hometown. … I immediately fight emotions when I’m in there, so I think it will help me a lot. “
Lewis knows Gane could kick him to pieces and flee, but he remains confident in the skills that brought him here. He will save his energy and wait for the opportunity to throw the thundering blows that have been dealt so many opponents before.
“He’s a really active striker and I’m not in,” said Lewis. “I like to choose my recordings and take my time. But if there’s an opening, if he gets close enough, I’ll show up. “
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